When Electronic Arts opened a development facility in Canada, the interactive entertainment software provider installed a state-of-the-art network and cabling infrastructure. The challange was to implement a system that would meet both present technology requirements and future bandwidth needs.
September 1, 2000
When Electronic Arts was created in 1982, the interactive entertainment software market was not much more than a concept. In fact, many industry observers predicted that if the market took off, it would never actually swim into the mainstream.
But with an eye towards the future, Electronic Arts saw an opportunity, stepped up to the challenge, and set up shop. Almost two decades later, the market has grown into a dynamic — and highly competitive — $15 billion industry, and Electronic Arts has become a force to be reckoned with. The company has grown into the world’s largest interactive entertainment software publisher with revenues exceeding US$1.2 billion.
The company, headquartered in Redwood City, CA, develops, publishes and distributes entertainment software for PCs and video game systems, such as Nintendo64 and PlayStation. It markets over 110 titles, boasts a vast worldwide distribution network in over 75 countries, and has offices and subsidiaries around the world — including 13 international product development centres.
Last year, the company opened the doors to one of these key development studios in Canada in a state-of-the-art, five-story campus style complex located in Burnaby, British Columbia. The new Electronic Arts Canada, which opened shop on January 4, 1999, was specifically designed to facilitate and promote a high level of design productivity while simultaneously maintaining a casual, creative working environment for its staff.
Five hundred employees are currently housed in the new 207,000-square-foot facility, which boasts a motion capture studio, professional quality sound studios and an information resource center. In keeping with the desire to provide an atmosphere that fosters teamwork and high employee morale, a health and fitness centre, a 65-seat theater with a 16- by 9-foot viewing screen and a company store were also included.
UNIQUE NETWORKING REQUIREMENTS
One of the main challenges in the development of the Electronic Arts Canada building was creating advanced network communications. The company’s management group was faced with the difficult challenge of providing a powerful, high-performance network to accommodate ever-growing needs. Needless to say, in an innovation-driven technology market where bigger/better/faster is key to gaming success, this studio had very special networking requirements.
Because a critical success factor for the company is the timely and accurate distribution of information between work areas, the network and its applications had to form an integral part of the design of this high-tech operation. The company required a high-bandwidth network to accelerate data transmission in the workplace. Projects in this studio were to be typically very large, requiring the capability to transmit CD-sized amounts of data quickly and effectively between workstations. And the company needed bandwidth levels that would accommodate current needs and future requirements as it developed larger, more intricate games. The studio would also require a network with the flexibility to quickly adapt to workstation growth and a redeployment frequency of 100 per cent per annum.
To this end, the company teamed up with NORDX/CDT and BMS Communications to help build the cabling infrastructure for the new software development studio. It was a large installation — consisting of some 8000 cable runs and 400 consolidation points — and required high-density data channel and voice channel to each workstation.
In choosing a network system, the company went with NORDX/CDT’s IBDN Cross-Connect System. BIX wall mount cross-connect systems were installed in 16 telecommunications rooms to ensure compact, high performance cable management. And raised floors were used to provide pathways for cable tray, which were used to feed IBDN 2400 cables. BIX connecting blocks were used at the consolidation points to terminate the cables, which are designed to provide a bandwidth of at least 200 MHz in the cabling channels. The MDVO outlets provided six modular ports for cable terminations at each work area.
THE NETWORKING SYSTEM
One of the key features of this installation was the use of the BIX connecting blocks with unjacketed jumpers instead of traditional patch panels and patch cords. This was selected in an attempt to improve access to switches and routers and to improve cable management issues. In addition, the system was intended to provide a variety of other advantages:
The system supports future high-speed data applications with a bandwidth extending beyond 200MHz. Electronic Arts Canada can benefit from higher data transmission speeds on the network, while supporting business critical application systems.
Consolidation points under the raised floor house the BIX 10A mounts that feed four workstations of approximately 400 square feet. These provide flexible connect/disconnect points to facilitate office rearrangements.
Moves, Adds and Changes (MACs) can be done via pre-terminated MDVO 6 port surface outlets.
BIX components are designed to exceed proposed Category 6 standards.
The system provides the company with space saving features in its telecommunications rooms. Only active components need to be mounted in racks and cabinets. Space savings for communications equipment represent significant cost savings and flexibility to migrate new systems on an as-needed basis, rather than port patching based on proximity or wire management issues.
The system’s modularity provides design flexibility to configure very large, easy-to-manage, cross-connect installations for terminating up to 14400 pairs or 3456 ports.
The system facilitates integration of all services (voice, high-speed data, video and controls).
SYSTEM NOISE MEASUREMENTS
One of the concerns that IT managers have is the effect of ambient noise due to a pileup of jumper wires between the BIX blocks. There is a perception in the market that this solution is only suitable for voice and not for data. NORDX/CDT addressed these concerns by developing tightly twisted 4-pair cross-connect wires. These wires are designed to have an impedance of 100 Ohms +/- 5 Ohms at high frequencies and low level crosstalk couplings between pairs. The B-Cross-connecting wire is designed for Category 5 / 5e installations and the G-BIX cross-connecting wire is designed for proposed Category 6 installations. The difference between them is the type of insulation material and the number of twists per foot.
The ambient noise levels were verified in an IBDN installation in Montreal on three unused regular category 5 channels (see Figure 1 above). Two of these channels were Ethernet dedicated, while the third one was Fast Ethernet dedicated. The networking equipment used for the Fast Ethernet (100BaseT) was the Omniswitch from Xylan. Figure 1 shows the cabling installation and the points that were monitored (telecom closet and work area) using digital oscilloscopes.
As shown in Figures 2 and 3 above, the noise levels for the worst case Fast Ethernet channel are very small compared to the actual Transmit and Receive signals. The alien noise levels monitored both at the telecom closet side (cross connect wires and pigtails from equipment rack to BIX connectors) and the telecom outlet side at the work area are less than 5 mV. This is about ten times less than the noise threshold that would generate errors for the 100 Mb/s Fast Ethernet application.
A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
This feature, in addition to other unique design elements of the system, provided the company with the flexibility to redeploy and migrate to new technologies in order to support its future network growth. It will all stand them in good stead as they continue to compete in a constantly evolving market where staying on top is key to gaming success.CS
Paul Kish is a senior Product Manager, IBDN Systems & Standards at NORDX/CDT, Pointe-Claire PQ. He is also Chair of the TR-42 engineering committee and writes the regularly featured Standards Update column for Cabling Systems.
Electronic Arts Canada
Burnaby, British Columbia
Five-story, campus-style complex
IBDN BIX Cross Connect